As tech clusters spread, a fight to be Silicon Valley North – by Sunny Freeman (Toronto Star – August 29, 2016)

The stretch of the 401 that connects Toronto with Kitchener-Waterloo has many hallmarks similar to California’s Highway 101.

Ooka Island is a rapidly growing learn-to-read software startup with roots planted in the red soil of Prince Edward Island. But when the Charlottetown-based company planned to get serious about bringing its product to market, it needed to expand to an urban centre close to venture capitalists, a pool of skilled labour and a broader customer base.

“Once you get to the product validation stage it is hard to be on an island far away,” said Kelly Shaw, CEO of Ooka Island. “We needed an office in Toronto so we had access to a much bigger market and a much bigger network.”

Ooka Island moved into a co-sharing space at Toronto’s MaRS Discovery District nearly two years ago. Its neighbours include other startups, advisors and investors and tech giants such as Facebook, Etsy and Airbnb.

“It’s like planned serendipity — it’s like these introductions and moments of connections happen and sometimes they’re unexpected and sometimes they’re planned,” Shaw said. Once upon a time, the need for such an ecosystem might have required a move south to Silicon Valley. But now the stretch of Highway 401 that connects Toronto with Kitchener-Waterloo has many hallmarks similar to that other famous tech corridor along California’s Highway 101.

The success of the tech cluster in Canada’s most densely populated area has inspired cities and towns – as nearby as Stratford and Hamilton to as far as St. John’s to Victoria – to try and emulate the formula by creating tech incubators and accelerators, helped by millions in federal government funding.

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